Archive | Practice RSS feed for this section

Finding Your Voice in Song

By: Stefanie Emery 

voice lessons

Many people are intrigued by the art of song and the beauty of the singing voice. For some, singing can come naturally, but for others it may be their life’s work to create the best singing voice possible. Either way, there are many mechanics and techniques that go into a well balanced singing voice.

When we learn that our natural speaking voice is in fact the same “voice” we use to match pitch for singing the mystery and challenge of singing can be simplified. The simple idea that we can transfer the speaking voice that we use to communicate every day to song will help a singer manage the obstacles of matching pitch, creating rich tone, and avoiding an overly breathy sound. 

Let’s break the singing voice down into three main areas. Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice.  Although we access these three “voices” differently, and they have different qualities to them, our goal is to create a consistent sound throughout all of our vocal “registers” thus leaving us with “one voice” instead of three completely different sounding voices. This is a big goal for most vocalists, as navigating between these areas can produce very different tones, volumes, and characteristics if not trained with proper control. Here are our three “voices” and some details on the resonators within our body that produce these sounds.

Chest Voice 

Most commonly recognized by the area where we use our natural speaking voice, the Chest Voice is accessed through the chest, acting as it’s external resonator, and in the mouth as it’s internal resonator. If you place one hand on your upper chest and say “HEY” you should feel a vibration in the chest. Chest Voice is where we produce our strongest sound which is usually the most easily accessed with lower pitches (think back to the speaking voice) and into a mid to higher register where we can produce big, belty sounds. 

Head Voice 

Head Voice is the opposite of Chest Voice because it is a much lighter sound and feeling. Think about taking all the weight away from a big chest voice and hitting pitches in your upper register, these are notes that feel higher and are not as easily achieved in a lower speaking voice area. Head Voice resonates externally in the back of the head and internally in the nasal cavity. To feel the Head Voice place one hand on the upper back of your head and say “WEEE” in a high pitch. You may feel that resonator vibrate slightly. Now say “What’s Up Doc” in the style of Bugs Bunny. Hear that very nasally sound you just created? You are using your Pharyngeal Resonator, or nasal tone, which is accessed externally off of the nose and internally at the back of the Pharynx. Your Pharynx is located internally towards the back of the head within the vocal tract. 

Mixed Voice 

Mixed Voice is where we combine the resonators of the Chest Voice and Head Voice, while  including the Pharyngeal Resonator to add in nasal qualities. Without this nasal component we won’t be accessing the “Mix” of these two other resonators to their fullest extent. All three of these resonators are present in a well balanced Mixed Voice. We use Mixed Voice to achieve rich, full sounds that span between our Chest and Head Voices allowing us to achieve the most consistent sound spanning our low and high registers. Mixed Voice can be used in our upper register to achieve higher pitches without them sounding thin or weak.

Learning how to access these three areas of the voice and how to coordinate the proper mechanics can be achieved through vocal technique exercises, experimentation, and application in song. 

Hearing Chest, Head, and Mixed Voice in Song 

While listening to a singer navigate through their vocal registers you can now start identifying which “voice” they are singing in. Dissecting a vocal performance is a great way to learn the different qualities of these areas of the voice. First, recognizing the pitch is most helpful because it will give us a clue to what register of the voice they are in. Is the singer singing low or high notes? Do they sound strong or light? If the sound is lower and strong there’s a good chance they are singing in chest voice, and if the sound is higher and light they are most likely in their head voice. Mixed Voice is sometimes challenging to identify because it usually sounds strong and has a large resonance. Many singers use their Mix to get powerful sounds in their higher register, thus, at times tricking the listener to think they could be in a powerful Chest Voice.  The song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is a great example of hearing all three of these voices. She uses her Chest Voice in most of the song but flips into her Head and Mixed Voices in many areas to create dynamic interest and to also achieve higher pitches with ease. Stylistically, she is choosing which voice to sing in to create differences in feel and tone, which creates an interesting performance rather than one that can feel monotonous and dull. When a vocal stays in the same area through an entire piece and lacks stylistic freedom the result is sometimes flat and underwhelming. Using your ear to analyze a vocal is a wonderful tool as it allows one to compare another vocalist’s abilities and begin utilizing the learned techniques in practice. 

Finding your natural singing voice is fun, experimental, and exciting. Knowing how your own voice operates is the first step to becoming a better more well-rounded singer,  and with dedicated practice you may start expanding your vocal range, techniques, and overall sound. As much as singing is technical it must also contain emotion and feel, because without those characteristics it may begin to sound lifeless or even robotic. Remembering that the tools, techniques, and mechanics of the voice are extremely important for vocal success should always be paired with the knowledge that music is an art and without personal expression and thoughtful emoting one will only be attaining, at best, fifty percent of their best possible sound. 

How to Play Slash Chords

Part 1: What are Slash Chords?


You see them in almost every piece of music, they’re plastered all over the internet. Yet, most guitar players have no idea what they mean or how to play them. It’s one of the most repeated questions students ask me over and over again.

Hi, Professor Kleiman at your service: Philly Music Lessons’ resident fretted/string instrument guru. You know; Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Banjo Ukulele, Sitar. Strings AND Frets. My hope is that this can become a regular column and with your help, questions, suggestions and comments, it will. I will try and debunk all the misinformation that’s out there or ‘up there’ in the cloud.

But let’s get back to the question at hand:

C/G or Em/B or even just some space and /G#

What do they mean????? Do you play a ‘C’ chord and then real fast change to ‘G’??? Do I play an ‘E minor’ chord a ‘B’ chord together??? Do I play a G# chord at some point???? The answer to all of them is NOPE.

I’ll answer this question with another. In a live band recording or performance, what other instruments are playing? Let’s break it down to the smallest group: The Power Trio- a Guitar player, a Drummer and a Bass player.

Their Roles:

Drummer: they bang and keep the beat. Guitar: they also bang but play chords – How ‘bout that Bass player: what is their job???

They sure don’t play chords. No, they play the bottom. They play the Bass. They play the lowest sound: THE ROOTS!!!!! That’s their job. You could put together the hottest drummer and guitar player you know but if the bass doesn’t do it’s job and play the ROOTS you got nothin’. Absolutely none of the music will sound right. What are the ROOTS or what are the ROOT notes?? That’s easy.

It’s the most important note in any chord and it’s easy to figure out the root note. All chords derive their name from the root note.

C chord= C root note.

G7 chord = G root note.

Bm chord = B root note.

F#7b9 = F# root note.

Ab13#5#11 = Ab root note. Got it????

The ONLY EXCEPTION are those pesky little old SLASH CHORDS. C/G means that they want the Bass player to play a ‘G’ note IN PLACE of the normal ‘C’ root note for the ‘C’ chord. Em/B means that they want the Bass player to play a ‘B’ note IN PLACE of the normal ‘E’ root note for the E minor chord. A ‘space’ and then /G# means that at that point in the song the BASS player is to play a ‘G#’ bass note.

Soooooo those slash chords do not change the chord that the guitar player is to play- to the left of the slash is the chord, to the right of the slash is the Bass note FOR THE BASS PLAYER. C/G=just play a C chord, Em/B= just play an E minor chord, ‘space’ /G# = continue to play whatever chord came before the slash- that G# is not for the guitar player-it’s for the Bass.

Remember you are usually listing to a combination of instruments when you listen to music. The most basic being: a guitar and bass- so when you look at music it is ALWAYS written for that combination. (Piano players have the luxury of being able to play both chords AND bass.) Just play the chord that’s to the left of the slash. If you are by yourself and trying to imitate the sound on a recording and you see a slash chord it will only sound ‘close ‘ until you sit down with the bass player – then between the two instruments you will be able to recreate the exact sound of the ‘slash’ chord. Or you could just learn to play piano but that would put me out of a job. Good Luck.

Part 2: Playing Slash Chords 

  If you read part one of this article, you now know that when you see C/G, it means that to the left of the slash is a Chord and to the right of the slash is an alternate Bass note– thus it is pronounced: 

C major chord with a G bass note (or C with a G bass)

 In Part 1, I stated that the only way to play this correctly is to have TWO instruments. The guitar player would play a C chord and the Bass player would play a G note BUT– for the intermediate to advanced guitar player– you CAN play this on one guitar. Here is one way to play and finger this chord:

Diagram 1: C/G

Please keep in mind that there are lots of different ways to ‘finger’ any  chord. Believe it or not, there can be can be as many as 26 ways to ‘finger’ any one chord on the guitar

I try to teach my students at least 3 ways to play a chord, depending on their level.

  1. a fingering within the first 4 frets that uses one or more open strings.  See Diagram 1
  2.  a movable ‘bar’ form with its root on the A string. The root is on the 3rd fret of the A string (not fingered nor played).
  3. a movable ‘bar’ form with its root on the E string.  The root is on the 8th fret of the Low E. (not fingered nor played).

Keep in mind that because of the ‘alternate Bass’ note, we do not play the root note when ‘voicing’ or ‘fingering’ these types of chords. We take it out. There should be a dead or muted string between the new Bass note and the rest of the chord. That will help ring out the new bass note.

(Go back to my Part 1 if you do not know what a root is.)

Another very popular Chord:

E/G#        (E or E major chord with a G# Bass)

Try this fingering:

Diagram 2: E/G#

    Listen to Eric Clapton ‘Tears in Heaven’ – these are the first 3 chords

     A                                        E/G#                F#m   

             Would     you          know     my     name? 

Remember -if you have a Bass player -the Guitar can just play:

A        E     F#m                                                                                                                

The bass player will hit the G# over the E chord resulting in the correct sound. If you want to play the song with just one guitar, you will need to put in the correct voicing (or fingering) of the chords to get the sound of the recording. (Voicing is the order of notes in the chord-as beginning guitar players we are just concerned with fingering) I don’t care about the theory right now–I just wanna play my guitar!

How ‘bout this one:   

D/F#          (D with an F# bass)

Diagram 3: D/F#

Lots of Songs:  First 3 chords to ‘American Pie’:

         G           D/F#         Em 

 A     long    long       time      ago 

and ‘Free Bird’:

  G              D/F#               Em  

     If    I   leave    here     tomorrow 

Or as I teach my beginning students the above songs, I use these easy to play chords. (less fingers are used.)

G6           D6/F#            Em7

G6 (a 2-finger chord) substitutes for G (a 3-finger chord)

D6/F# (3 fingers) substitutes for D/F# (4 fingers)

Em7 (1-finger) substitutes for Em (2 fingers)

They still retain the correct sound of the substituted chord but are far less difficult to play/learn because less fingers are used. This method is called “Chord Substitution by Family.”

    Try the above songs with these simplified chords- pretty close to the sound on the recording, no?  For the beginning Guitarist, understanding Chord Substitution by learning these simplified chords, can really make it easy to learn songs that use more difficult chords (3 and 4 finger chords) and still sound pretty authentic.

Sometimes, the alternate Bass note is notated with just the ‘slash’ as in: The first 4 chords of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’

        Am                  /G                                        /F#                                      F

I     look     at       you        all      see    the      love      there    that’s   sleeping  

You would interpret the music as thus:

Am      Am/G        Am/F#       F  

Diagram 4: Am/G

OK- that should help you out next time you come across ‘slash’ chords. (But please call them by there correct name)

Questions, comments?  Get back to me and I will try my best to answer them.

Stephen Kleiman

  April 2020

10 Techniques For Developing A Musical Practice

By Nicholas Krolak

A musician’s performance on stage is a direct expression of the time and energy spent in the practice room. Therefore, having a clear and effective practice strategy is invaluable. Here are a few proven techniques for improving practice outcomes, spending practice time more effectively, and having more fun.

Keyboard metronome practice

1. Block Distractions

Practice begins before you even touch your instrument. Life is full of distractions, but your practice space should be your sanctuary. A place of focus. You will get so much more out of your practice time in an environment that is calm and distraction free (as much as possible).

2. Set Goals

Think of what your goals for that practice day are. Keep them small and completable. There is no need to overwhelm yourself. Practicing one thing thoroughly is always better than practicing ten things superficially. Be sure to write down your daily goals in a practice journal, where you can also record your weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

3. Visualize

Before playing a piece, scale, or etude, try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself playing it. How does it feel? How does it sound? Now try playing it. Does it match your visualized experience? If not, visualize it again and focus on the difficult parts. Get your mind around it first and your body will follow.

4. Practice Slow

Most music students, including myself, are in a hurry to play a piece at full tempo or beyond. They key to playing fast, is playing slow. Slowing down a piece will reveal all the stumbling blocks and how to get past them. You may have to decrease the tempo many times to fully smooth out a piece, but in the long run it is worth it.

Metronome tempo practice

They key to playing fast, is playing slow.

5. Use a Metronome

A metronome is a great tool to help you develop and strengthen your internal clock. However, most music students either don’t use one, or use it incorrectly. When playing something for the first time it is fine to have the metronome playing all the beats. Once it is a little more comfortable, try muting one beat, then two beats, then three beats. Muting beats forces you to keep track of the time, and the metronome will let you know how successful you were.

6. Use a Drone

A drone is like a metronome for pitch. It gives you instant feedback on your intonation. Set a drone to the tonic pitch of the piece to make sure your intonation stays constant. Observe when it drifts, and bring it back.

7. Focus on the Crux

The crux is the hardest part of a piece of music. It is very common for students to play the parts they know as fast as they can, stumble through the hard part (at a much slower tempo), and call it a day. This is ineffective. It is a better use of time to spend most of your practice time on the hardest part. This is where big gains is musical growth will happen.

8. Chunking

“Chunking” is the process of working on a larger piece by breaking it into chunks. Working chunk by chunk and then working to connect them is much more effective than playing a piece from start to finish every time.

9. Record Yourself

Record your practice sessions and performances and listen back to them periodically. What needs to improve? What are your strengths? Write observations down in your practice journal, and use your insights to set or redesign goals.

10. Have Fun!

Musical practice is one of the most challenging and rewarding pursuits, but can be tedious at times. Whenever, it gets boring, try making a game for yourself or to be played with others. Write your own etude or duet, try playing another instrument, or go see some live music. Keeping it fun will help motivate and stimulate your musical experiences.

open music kids class